Summary and book reviews of The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

The Lifeboat

A Novel

by Charlotte Rogan

The Lifeboat
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2012, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2013, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Guidarini

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About this Book

Book Summary

In the summer of 1914, the elegant ocean liner carrying Grace Winter and her husband Henry across the Atlantic suffers a mysterious explosion. Setting aside his own safety, Henry secures Grace a place in a lifeboat, which the survivors quickly realize is over capacity. For any to live, some must die.

Grace Winter, 22, is both a newlywed and a widow. She is also on trial for her life.

In the summer of 1914, the elegant ocean liner carrying her and her husband Henry across the Atlantic suffers a mysterious explosion. Setting aside his own safety, Henry secures Grace a place in a lifeboat, which the survivors quickly realize is over capacity. For any to live, some must die.

As the castaways battle the elements, and each other, Grace recollects the unorthodox way she and Henry met, and the new life of privilege she thought she'd found. Will she pay any price to keep it?

The Lifeboat is a page-turning novel of hard choices and survival, narrated by a woman as unforgettable and complex as the events she describes.

Excerpt
The Lifeboat

We passed jagged splinters of wood and half-submerged barrels and snakelike lengths of twisted rope. I recognized a deck chair and a straw hat and what looked like a child's doll floating together, bleak reminders of the pretty weather we had experienced only that morning and of the holiday mood that had pervaded the ship. When we came upon three smaller casks bobbing in a group, Mr. Hardie shouted "Aha!" and directed the men to take two of them on board, then stored them underneath the triangular seat formed by the pointed aft end of the boat. He assured us they contained fresh water and that once we had been saved from the vortex created by the foundering ship, we might need to be saved from thirst and starvation; but I could not think that far ahead. To my mind, the railing of our little vessel was already perilously close to the surface of the water, and I could only believe that to stop for anything at all would decrease our chances of reaching that critical ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In disaster situations, is it right to save women and children first? What moral justifications exist for your answer?


  2. Discuss the thought experiment referred to in Grace's trial, also known as "The Plank of Carneades." Is either the first or second swimmer to reach the plank justified in pushing the other swimmer away?


  3. What do you think of the concept of necessity as a justification for behavior that would not be condoned in ordinary circumstances?


  4. If you were to ask Grace what qualities she looked for in a friend, what would she say? What would the truth be?


  5. Which characters, in your opinion, hold the moral high ground?


  6. Seventeenth-century political philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke postulated that ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Rogan does a magnificent job keeping the tension tight throughout the book and the sense of place is masterfully accomplished, bringing alive all five senses by way of sharp, well-honed descriptions. The Lifeboat is gripping, edge-of-your-seat fiction that forces the reader to examine his or her own true nature, begging the question, "What would you be willing to do in order to survive?"   (Reviewed by Lisa Guidarini).

Full Review Members Only (567 words).

Media Reviews

The Washington Post

Charlotte Rogan manages to distill this drama about what's right and wrong when the answer means life or death into a gripping, confident first novel… Other novels have examined the conscience and guilt of a survivor among the dead, but few tales are as thoughtful and compelling as this.

Publishers Weekly

A complex and engrossing psychological drama.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. The lifeboat becomes a compelling, if almost overly crafted, microcosm of a dangerous larger world in which only the strong survive.

Author Blurb Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall
What a splendid book. ...I can't imagine any reader who looks at the opening pages wanting to put the book down. ...It's so refreshing to read a book that is ambitious and yet not tricksy, where the author seems to be in command of her material and really on top of her game. It's beautifully controlled and totally believable.

Author Blurb J. M. Coetzee, author or Summertime
Charlotte Rogan uses a deceptively simply narrative of shipwreck and survival to explore our all-too-human capacity for self-deception.

Author Blurb Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried
The Lifeboat is a spellbinding and beautifully written novel, one that will keep readers turning pages late into the night. This is storytelling at its best, and I was completely absorbed from beginning to end.

Author Blurb Emma Donoghue, author of Room
The Lifeboat traps the reader in a story that is exciting at the literal level and brutally moving at the existential: I read it in one go.

Reader Reviews

Dorothy L

A Thoughtful Read
I liked this book. There are many positives. The characters are well drawn and very interesting--especially the protagonist Grace. I did find some parts in the middle sometimes dragged but I found the last part of the story very intriguing and ...   Read More

Louise J

Captivating!
As a debut novel, this was well-written, well thought out and left you feeling hopeful that you yourself are never put in the same position as these people found themselves. Charlotte Rogan has written a compelling, page-turner that should not be ...   Read More

Diane S.

The Lifeboat
Thirty nine people in one lifeboat adrift for many weeks waiting for rescue, some strong some not. Rogan takes what is a relatively simple plot line and than fills it with moral ambiguities and decisions that keeps the reader wondering what will ...   Read More

Becky

afloat and drifting
This book held my attention simply because I needed to know who survived and who didn't as well as the back story of Grace Winter. The book is well written with believable characters and a growing sense of the horror of the situation on the lifeboat....   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Castaway Literature

When human beings are torn from society and forced to fight for survival, our true nature is often revealed. With very clear threats to life and limb, and without any need to account for our actions when laws become irrelevant, we can revert to our primal instincts for personal survival. But to what extent is a person willing to go in order to survive? In a kill-or-be-killed situation, are humans actually more highly evolved than other animals? Throughout history, writers have tried to answer these questions, among others, via the art of fiction.

<i>The Tempest</i> Believed to have been written in 1610 or 1611, William Shakespeare's The Tempest is the story of The Duke of Milan -...

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